In must-win game without Nurse, Oilers going all-in with McDavid-Draisaitl

LOS ANGELES — Other than the fact the lines have changed, No. 1 defenseman Darnell Nurse will watch the game in street clothes, and the Edmonton Oilers are facing a high-pressure elimination game tonight in Los Angeles, there wasn’t much going on at Wednesday’s morning skate at Arena.

So, where to start?

“I’m not going into this thinking I’m trying to replace Nursey,” said Brett Kulak, who will replace the suspended Nurse on a pairing with Cody Ceci. “I’m going to get more of a role out there, be on the ice a lot more and play against different players than I’ve seen a lot of this series. So those are just little things that I make myself aware of.”

Nurse was suspended for one game after a head-butting incident against Los Angeles Kings center Phillip Danault in Game 6. So the Oilers assistant captain will watch this one, and hope his team can win so he gets to take part in a Game 7 Saturday night in Edmonton.

“We’ve played big games without Nursey before, and had success without him before,” said captain Connor McDavid. “Obviously he’s a big part of our team and we miss him when he’s not playing, got to do it again tonight.”

It appears that head coach Jay Woodcroft will use Kris Russell on a pairing with Tyson Barrie and not enact the 11 forward, seven defenceman alignment he has used before. Here is how the Oilers lines set up, off the morning skate:


Draisaitl – McDavid – Yamamoto

Kane – Nugent-Hopkins – Hyman

Archibald – McLeod – Puljujarvi

Foegele – Ryan – Kassian


Kulak – Ceci

Keith – Bouchard

Russell – Barrie

We’ll predict that McDavid and Draisaitl will play more tonight than the 19:55 and 20:37 they logged respectively in Game 5. Putting them together is the go-to move for any coach in a situation as desperate as Woodcroft’s, down 3-2 and playing on the road.

“It’s what we went to in the third period of (Game 5), and I thought they controlled the game and were a big reason we were able to push it to overtime,” Woodcroft said. “I’ve seen firsthand, especially early in their career, the type of magic that they can create.”

Woodcroft is talking about when he was an Oilers assistant coach under Todd McLellan, who of course now coaches the Kings.

On Wednesday, they were at odds over where the pressure lies, as this series gives fans its first elimination game.

“We understand where the pressure lies,” said Woodcroft, “and the pressure is quite clearly on the home team to try and close this out on home ice.”

Over at the Kings practice, McLellan begged to differ.

“Maybe I’m the only one who can speak to this, because I’ve lived their bench and now I’m living our bench. It’s completely different,” the veteran coach told reporters. “Our pressure is what we put on ourselves. Their pressure is enormous throughout Oil Country and Canada, and the superstars, and the media pressure, and where they’ve been, and what they want to do.

“A lot of people who have followed this series have used (the term) house money. We don’t see it that way, but it also creates a different set of pressure points for each organization.”

Kulak is one guy who has lived this before, as a member of the Montreal Canadiens a year ago.

“It was our first round last year,” he recalled. “We were down 3-1 to the Leafs and we came back and ended up winning that one in seven.”

It’s a lot easier to believe when you’ve actually done it. Edmonton needs a win tonight in LA, where the Oilers have won three of four games against the Kings this season, then take it home for a Game 7 at Rogers Place.

“It definitely helps you think of those moments,” Kulak said. “It makes you feel good, like you don’t feel any quit in the room and yourself personally. You come in, put your work boots on and make sure you’re sharp and ready to go. Just trust our system.

“You know, we’re a good team and feel good about things.”

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